Lighting – the tattooing area should be well lit so the artist can see clearly what they are doing.
Counter tops and floor space should be light coloured so that any dirt can easily be seen
The spray bottle used by the artist on your skin should be disinfected between customers or wrapped in some king of protective film like Saran or Glad wrap
Disposing of needles – all needles should be either discarded after each use (and certainly each customer), or autoclaved. There are no exceptions to this requirement, reusing needles is equivalent to sharing IV drug needles with all the accompanying risks.
Once the needles are opened from their sanitary package, they must not come into contact with other unsanitized objects or surfaces.
The artist must thoroughly wash their hands, preferably with an antibacterial/antiseptic wash prior to putting their gloves on and then only touch your skin the needle and pigments.
The skin should be cleaned with antibacterial soap and water and scrubbing before the procedure to lessen the normal population of germs on the hide. Alcohol doesn’t do much but tends to degrease and cool, so no harm but no substitute.
USE OF DISPOSABLE GLOVES: A conscientious, professional tattooist or piercer will often go through A DOZEN DISPOSABLE GLOVES on one client. Gloves SHOULD be changed every time they touch unsanitized items with their gloves. If you see that the artist does not change gloves after answering the phone, they are not being sanitary. Marginally acceptable is if they pick up the phone (or other objects, such as pencil) with a tissue. Optimally, they should use a new pair of gloves after each potential contamination.
- Autoclaves should be inspected regularly
- Sterile items should be stored in sealed containers
- Make sure the artists have small wells for each ink color that they dispense from a larger container, and that these are thrown out after work on you is done.
Can I get infectious diseases from tattoo needles?
There has been some concern recently regarding transmittable diseases (particularly Hepatitis-B and AIDS [HIV]) and tattoo shops. Just as in a dentist’s office, as long as the area is strictly sanitized, your chances for infection will be greatly reduced.
Note: If you plan on getting lots of bodyart (pierces or tattoos), you should seriously consider getting immunized against Hepatitis-B. Hep-B is a much more serious concern than HIV as the virus is much more virulent and easier to catch.
If your tattooer maintains sterile conditions and procedures, there is almost no risk of infection. I say “almost” because any risk, no matter how miniscule, is still a risk and must be recognized. That said, I am the proud owner of a Jolly Roger tattoo on my right shoulder because I knew my tattooist and knew he had sterile conditions.